Problems with growing cauliflower

Cauliflower Head Development: Information About Headless Cauliflower

Cauliflower is a cool season crop that is a bit more finicky regarding its climactic needs than its relatives broccoli, cabbage, kale, turnips, and mustard. Sensitivity to weather and environmental conditions make cauliflower prone to numerous growing problems. Usually, the issues center on cauliflower curd problems such as headless cauliflower. What are some of these conditions that can affect cauliflower head development?

Cauliflower Growing Problems

Cauliflower has two phases of growth — vegetative and reproductive. The reproductive phase means head or curd growth and any number of conditions during the reproductive phase such as unusually hot weather, drought or low temps can result in small premature heads or “buttons.” Some people think of this as a headless cauliflower. If you have no head on your cauliflower, it’s undoubtedly stress affecting the plant.

Stresses that affect cauliflower development may be overly cold soil or air temps in the spring, lack of irrigation or nutrition, root bound plants, and insect or disease damage. Cultivars that mature more quickly are more susceptible to stress than those that need a longer growing period.

Troubleshooting Cauliflower Curd Problems

To avoid having tiny buttons or even no head on a cauliflower plant, proper care must be taken when planting and during follow-up care.

  • Moisture – Soil should always be moist to a depth of 6 inches. Consistent moisture is necessary for the plants to develop full heads. They need additional water the later in the season that you plant it since cauliflower grown into the warmer parts of summer obviously need more water than those grown in the cool early spring.
  • Temperature – Cauliflower doesn’t tolerate warm temps and must be planted early enough to mature before the hot weather. Some varieties of cauliflower may need to be blanched to protect the heads from sun damage prior to harvest. This means the leaves of the plant are tied over the developing heads much like a kerchief.
  • Nutrition – Sufficient nutrition is also crucial for proper head development. No head on a cauliflower plant may be a symptom of a lack of nutrients, especially since cauliflower is a heavy feeder. Amend the soil with compost, well tilled in, and apply a 5-10-10 fertilizer at the rate of 3 pounds per 100 square feet just before transplanting. It’s also a good idea to side dress with nitrogen at three to four weeks post transplantation in the amount of 1 pound per 100 foot row.

Monitor the cauliflower for any signs of insect or disease, provide plenty of nutrition and consistent irrigation and you should be seeing beautiful, large white cauliflower heads in no time.

Broccoli, Cauliflower, and Cabbage Not Forming Heads

Question:

My broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage have many large leaves and look very healthy. However they haven’t started to form any heads. Have just large plants.

Hardiness Zone: 10b

Allene from Phoenix, AZ

Answer:

Hi Allene,

There are a few reasons that heads fail to form on broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. The usual culprit is stress brought on by extreme temperatures or drought. All three of these crops prefer cool temperatures and need an even supply of moisture to produce the largest heads and develop the best flavor. Extended periods of high temperatures can bring head formation to a screeching halt. The same is true of cold temperatures. If transplanting seedlings that are not acclimatized properly, cold weather can cause young plants to button up and produce small heads. Other possible causes include overcrowding, lack of soil nutrients, damage to roots, or transplanting seedlings too late-after roots have become pot bound in nursery flats.

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Solutions include ensuring that you’re meeting water and nutrient requirements, keeping diseases and insects under control, timing your plantings appropriately in the spring and fall, and acclimating seedlings to the cold before transplanting.

As long as your plants appear healthy, they will probably form heads eventually (that is, barring any unfortunate weather events). If they start to flower and bolt, it’s best to pull them up and try again in the fall when temperatures start getting cooler. Remember to give your cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower an even supply of moisture throughout the season, especially as they start to form heads.

Good luck!

Ellen

Quick Guide to Growing Cauliflower

  • Plant spring cauliflower 2 to 4 weeks before the last frost. Both in-ground gardens and containers are good options.
  • Plant cauliflower in rows with each plant spaced 18 inches apart. Rows should be 30 inches apart.
  • Improve your native soil by mixing in several inches of compost or other rich organic matter.
  • Add a 3-inch layer of mulch and give plants 1 to 1.5 inches of water weekly.
  • Cover young plants to protect them from cold weather.
  • When the cauliflower head is about the size of a golf ball, gently fold leaves over the head and secure them in place with twine.
  • Harvest cauliflower heads when they are still compact but large enough to eat (about 6 to 8 inches in diameter).

Soil, Planting, and Care

If you’re looking to get the most you can out of your cauliflower plants in terms of growth and harvest, start with Bonnie Plants® cauliflower plants instead of seeds. Bonnie has over a century of experience providing quality plants for home gardeners, so you can rely on us. Plus, starting with young plants will put you that much closer to harvest time.

Like most vegetables, cauliflower needs at least 6 hours of full sun each day; more is better. It also needs fertile, well-drained, moist soil with plenty of rich organic matter. The soil pH should be between 6.5 and 6.8 for optimum growth and to discourage clubroot disease. To be sure of soil pH, test the soil. You can buy a kit, or get a soil test through your regional Cooperative Extension office. Apply fertilizer and lime according to test recommendations. Add nitrogen-rich amendments such as blood meal, cottonseed meal, or composted manure to the soil, or improve your native soil with aged compost-enriched Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose In-Ground Soil. (Growing in pots? You won’t be disappointed if you use Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose Container Mix, which also contains compost but is lighter and fluffier than in-ground soil.) You’ll get the best results if, in addition to providing the best soil environment for plant roots, you give your growing cauliflower plants regular feedings of a continuous-release fertilizer like Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose Plant Nutrition, which feeds the beneficial microbes in the soil as well as your plants. Fertilize throughout the growing season, following label directions.

Set out spring plants early enough that they can mature before the heat of summer, but not so early that they freeze; 2 to 4 weeks before the last frost is about right. Be prepared to protect them from cold weather with a cover. You can use fabric row covers or homemade items such as old milk jugs.

Set out fall crops about 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost. Be prepared to shade them, if needed, to protect from heat.

Space cauliflower plants about 18 inches apart in the row with 30 inches between rows to allow room for walking. Remember, plants need an even moisture supply to avoid stress. Organic mulch will help keep the soil cool and moist and will suppress weeds. Apply 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week if rain falls short.

When the cauliflower heads are about 2 inches wide, you may need to pull the leaves up over each little head and fasten with a clothespin or twine. This shades the head to ensure it will be white and tender at harvest (called blanching). Plants are supposed to “self-blanch,” in which the leaves naturally curl over the head, but watch them because they often need the help of a clothespin.

Growing Cauliflower – How to Grow Cauliflower

How to Grow Cauliflower – A Guide to Growing Cauliflower

Cauliflowers

Cauliflowers are not the easiest of brassicas to grow but I think they are probably the most satisfying. A beautifully formed cauliflower with tight curds is wonderful to see and producing it is a very satisfying. As well as white varieties you can get yellow and purple ones.

There are three types of cauliflower; summer, autumn and winter varieties. Summer varieties can be sown in the cold frame in September, indoors in January or outdoors in April and some varieties may be harvested in June or July while other outdoor sown varieties will be ready during August.

Autumn varieties maturing during October and November are of two types some vigorous and large and some more compact. Winter cauliflowers are really ‘heading broccoli’. They are less delicately flavoured than true cauliflowers but are easier to grow. They may take 40 to 50 weeks to mature from March through to June.

By selecting different variety and planting at the right time, it is possible to have a cauliflower to cut most of the year but mostly from March to November. The old Victorian Head Gardener would be able to provide a fresh cauliflower on demand evry day of the year.

Recommended Varieties of Cauliflower

Summer Cauliflowers

  • Gypsy is a good summer variety, sow in October and overwinter in a cold frame. Plant out in March for early summer deep, round, white Cauliflowers. Good for exhibition and less fertile soils. Awarded the RHS Award Of Garden Merit (AGM).
  • Clapton is the first cauliflower to be resistant to clubroot; it has taken over over 18 years to breed this variety. Depending on its sowing time it matures from late summer to late autumn, producing large, excellent flavoured, solid, deep white heads of uniform quality.
  • Mayflower are the earliest summer cauliflower . Sow them in mid-January and plant outside in late March for a harvest of delicious, tender, large heads in May and June.

Autumn Cauliflowers

  • Pavilion is my favourite autumn variety. It was bred in Australia bred and stands reasonably well in the ground. It produces good sized heads with pure white curds during late September and October with leaves that protect them from frost so prolonging the cropping season. Awarded the RHS Award Of Garden Merit (AGM).
  • Cheddar produces deep yellow-orange heads which contain a high level of beta carotene. Leave the heads uncovered to produce the best colour, which deepens later in the autumn.
  • Purple Graffiti produces a bright purple head but although not particularly tasty it’s great fun to grow cropping July-October. Purple cauliflowers contain anthocyanins a very powerful antioxidant, which is said to help prevent cancer and is beneficial to general health.

Winter Cauliflowers – ‘heading broccoli’

  • Jerome F1 is a superb ‘cauli’ which stands well through the winter. It has deep, white heads of superb quality for harvesting in April. The vigorous leaves should be folded over the curds to protect them from winter weather.
  • Chester F1 has good vigour. It’s deep well covered curds can be harvested in April.
  • Romanesco is a type of cross between calabrese and cauliflower. It has beautiful lime green curds which are reminiscent of a fractal design. They are produced from November to January, long after calabrese has usually finished. It has a wonderful flavour and a more tender texture than cauliflower. It can be cooked whole or served as individual spears. It is grown in the same way as cauliflower. (see Romanesco)

Growing Problems of Cauliflowers

Cauliflowers are very vulnerable to club root so follow the instructions on growing with clubroot infected soil some, however, are now being bred with clubroot resistant. They are susceptible to cabbage root fly as well. Caterpillars and slugs and pigeons are the worst pests of cauliflowers. Caterpillars will eat the leaves and get into the curd and slugs to climb the stem to eat away the surface of the curds leaving brown trails. Pigeons will eat the leaves of young plants.

Cultivation of Cauliflowers

Cauliflowers should be grown in firm soil and react badly to poor cultivation techniques. Follow our instructions for the ideal brassica bed and you’re likely to be successful. Cauliflowers are very hungry plants and need plenty of nitrogen to grow well. They are best eaten fresh so you should sow them successionally to prevent a glut you can’t use.

Sow successionally into modules, thinning them at seedling stage to one plant per module. Move them up to a larger pot when ready, this will prevent root disturbance – but don’t allow them to become pot bound.

You can check the root system by turning the pot upside down holding the plant between your fingers to stop the soil from falling out then lift off the pot. If the white roots go around the pot in circle it is pot bound. Move it into a larger pot teasing out the roots to encourage them to grow into the new compost.

When re-potting or planting out they should be planted deeply, up to the base of the seed leaves. This helps them have a firm stalk above ground and grow into strong plants.

When you plant Cauliflowers out into their final growing position, ensure they are well firmed in and watered so that the roots establish well. If a good root system is not established early on they will never be able to absorb the water and nutrients they require – cauliflower heads will be small. Don’t allow too much sunlight to get onto the head as it will cause the curds to be slightly yellow rather than white, this can be prevented by bending some of the inner leaves over to shade it the head.

If you don’t harvest the cauliflower as soon as it is ready it will continue to grow and the florets will begin to open spoiling its eating quality. Some varieties stand longer than others, so check the description in the seed catalogue.

Harvesting, Eating & Storing

Cauliflowers can be stored in the fridge for 1-2 weeks wrapped tightly in cling film. A glut can be frozen although they do tend to go a little soft and discoloured.

Further Information on Cauliflower

Cauliflower Seed & Plants

  • Cauliflower from the Allotment Shop
  • Cauliflower with the Award of Garden Merit

Varieties that have won the RHS Award of Garden Merit will generally give consistent good results

Brassica Information

Articles relevant to brassicas. The brassica or cabbage family, is technically known as Cruciferae but was previously known as Brassicaceae from which we get the word Brassica. Brassicas are one of our oldest known and very important edible crops. It’s…

My Cauliflower Plants Have No Heads

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Cauliflower plants can grow quite large, and it seems that the larger the plant the greater our expectations for the fruit or vegetable it produces. How disappointing then when a cauliflower plant fails to produce any heads at all. There are a few reasons for such a failure, and each is easily remedied with some more careful planning and a little extra care the next time around.

Stress

Cauliflower is extremely sensitive to any stress early in its development. Stress that results from temperature fluctuations or extremes, from inconsistent watering or from stalls in growth will threaten the plant’s ability to develop or to fully develop the cauliflower heads.

Moisture

In general, the soil should be moist to a depth of 6 inches. Use drip irrigation set to a timer to achieve consistent and thorough irrigation. Cauliflower needs consistent moisture if the plants are to develop full heads. Cauliflower needs more water the later you plant it. Cauliflower plants whose growth continues into the warmer parts of the year are going to require more water than those grown in regions where there is enough time between that cool early spring weather and the warmer early summer weather that threatens a cauliflower’s development.

Temperature

Cauliflower is a cool-season crop. This means that it doesn’t tolerate warm temperatures and must be planted early enough in the season to mature before warm weather arrives. In fact, many varieties of cauliflower must be blanched, a process in which the leaves of the plant are tied over the heads to protect them from sun damage just before harvest. On the other hand, too much cold weather before or after transplanting will also stunt the transplant’s growth and will affect its ability to develop mature heads later on.

Soil and Fertilizer

The soil may also be a problem. Because cauliflower is such a heavy feeder, the quality of the soil is very important for head development. If the soil is very poor to begin with, and you don’t do much in the way of amending it, it’s unlikely that you’ll end up with big, white, round and beautiful cauliflower heads. Amend the soil with compost, till it until it’s nice and crumbly and apply a general 5-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of 3 lbs. per 100 square feet before planting your transplants, as the Clemson Cooperative Extension recommends. It’s also important to side-dress the plants with nitrogen once they’re established, or after three to four weeks, at a rate of 1 lb. per 100 feet of row.

GardenGrow

Your comments and tips

Post a comment or question Display Newest first | Oldest first, Show comments for New Zealand | for all countries 19 Dec 13, Michelle (New Zealand – temperate climate) Once I have picked the cauliflower, do I need to remove the plant or will another cauli grow? Thanks. 20 Dec 13, (New Zealand – temperate climate) Thank you for the replies, I don’t think I explained myself very well. I grew beautiful big cauliflowers, I’ve picked them and the question is, now what do I do with the plant left behind – will another cauliflower grow from the stalk or do I pull the whole plant out? Thanks 27 Aug 19, Alex Ayerst (New Zealand – temperate climate) Take plant out and compost. Leave for a while before replacing. 27 Sep 13, raymond russell (Australia – arid climate) hi I have the same promble plenety of leaves but no heads 13 Sep 13, Paul (Australia – arid climate) I have found the same thing with mine as well. I have not worked out why yet. Sorry I can’t help you but thought I would let you know that you are not the only one. Good luck! 11 Sep 13, Jo (South Africa – Semi-arid climate) My cauliflowers have big healthy leaves…but no heads are coming they are about half a metre tall…now i read that they don’t like warm temperatures. I live on coast KZN and summer is coming. what should i do? take them out… 04 Oct 13, elna geringer (South Africa – Summer rainfall climate) I would like to know the reply as well please Thanks 12 Aug 13, Eddie Noble (Australia – temperate climate) I am having problems with cauliflowers, they form a small head then they shoot away to become very spindly, what do you suggest the reason for this is. 12 Aug 13, Lyn (Australia – temperate climate) Hi, I had cauli growing beautifully in my raised bed until recently when the tight heads started to grow unevenly ie no longer in a tight bunch and spreading out and up seperately. They get sun for most of the day. Also, when do you harvest? The stalks are still green and getting quite long and uneven in length. 🙁 Help please…. 24 Aug 17, Cat (Australia – temperate climate) It may be getting too warm niw and it is starting to bolt Mayne pick itand use it now Cauliflowers need the cold to grow Plant seeds in summer and plant in May/June Check the gardnate for caulifliowers temp climate Showing 81 – 90 of 176 comments

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